Dramatic New Findings Support Menthol As A Starter Tobacco Product For Youth
Data from the First Longitudinal Study on Menthol Use Among Youth Intensifies Pressure on Food and Drug Administration to Ban Menthol to Protect Public Health
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A new study released online today in the American Journal of Public Health finds that young smokers are more likely to progress from mentholated tobacco products to nonmentholated varieties over a short period of time. According to researchers from the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy (SI), this is the first national longitudinal study to investigate switching between menthol and nonmenthol brands in adolescents and young adults. Dr. Andrea Villanti, the lead author stated that “We know from national surveys that the youngest smokers disproportionately use menthol cigarettes. Since our study followed a cohort of the same individuals over time, we have also been able to show that young smokers are more likely to switch from menthol to nonmenthol cigarettes early in their smoking careers, providing further evidence that menthols serve as a starter product for young smokers.” These findings underscore the need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the flavoring altogether as has already been done with all other flavors.
Menthol cigarettes remain a controversial tobacco product based on the fact that it makes it easier for youth to take up a deadly addiction, deter smokers from quitting, and are marketed to minority communities that often bear a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease. It is also the only tobacco flavoring that was not banned outright by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act nearly three years ago.
Today’s study adds to the evidence that menthols serve as a starter product for youth. Researchers from the SI used data from the National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to examine switching between menthol and nonmenthol brands (and in the opposite direction) in adolescents and young adults age 16-24 over a two-year period.
Researchers found that the youngest menthol smokers were most likely to switch to nonmenthol cigarettes. “Menthols are clearly not an ‘adult choice’,” said David B. Abrams, PhD, Executive Director of Legacy’s Schroeder Institute. Among young people who smoked menthol brands at baseline, the rate of switching to nonmenthol brands (i.e., 15 percent) was twice as high as the rate of switching to menthol brands among baseline smokers of nonmenthol varieties (6.9 percent).
The researchers also found that age, gender, race/ethnicity, parental education and smoking frequency may influence the switch from mentholated to nonmentholated cigarettes. “We know that a majority of African American smokers – astonishing 82.6 percent – smoke menthol cigarettes. The lack of switching among these smokers may reflect the predominance of menthol brands in African American communities throughout the lifespan,” said Villanti, Research Investigator for SI.
Public health groups like Legacy and SI have urged the FDA to consider the growing evidence against menthols and take these products off the market in the interest of public health. “Banning menthol could prevent a significant portion of youth smoking initiation and help many smokers – including African Americans – quit by disrupting the progression of experimentation to regular smoking,” said Villanti.
Though other candy flavored cigarettes have already been banned, menthols remain on the market. For decades, the tobacco industry has carefully manipulated menthol content in cigarettes to lure new, young smokers, and current research shows that menthol use is on the rise among young people. The evidence shows that if menthol cigarettes are taken off the market, fewer youth will be enticed to take up this deadly addiction. Stopping the sale of menthol cigarettes would also address the disproportionate burden that African Americans suffer from smoking menthol cigarettes. A ban could prevent up to 600,000 smoking-related premature deaths by 2050, a third of those from the African American community.
The Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA authority to eliminate menthol tobacco products or otherwise restrict their sale or marketing. As its first order of business, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) convened in March 2010 to review the issue. One year later, TPSAC determined that the scientific evidence establishes that removal of menthol cigarettes from the market would benefit public health in the United States – a recommendation applauded by public health and African American advocacy groups.
Despite the key TPSAC report conclusion that menthol is more likely than not to promote youth uptake, the FDA has yet to act. In June 2011, its announcement that more study is necessary before making a decision as to whether to pursue a menthol ban is an unfortunate delay. Legacy urges the FDA to move quickly to commence the formal rulemaking process to remove menthol from the marketplace in order to benefit the public health.
Legacy helps people live longer, healthier lives by building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Legacy’s proven-effective and nationally recognized public education programs include truth®, the national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. To learn more about Legacy’s life-saving programs, visit www.LegacyForHealth.org.
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